Lucy-Anne Skinner

A multi-disciplinary approach to the characterisation of ancient leather processing in the Nile Valley during the Pharaonic era.

Supported by

Arts and Humanities Research Council

“Reverse-engineering” ancient Egyptian and Nubian leather - insight into an ancient, skin processing industry, and the lives of the people making and wearing it.

Start Date: October 2016
End Date: October 2019
Themes: The 'lives' of objects from their making, use, reception, loss, collection and later use and understanding. What objects can reveal about the social, cultural, religious, creative and political history of their makers, users, owners, depositors and collectors.
Research discipline: Archaeology, Scientific research
Location: Africa, Middle East
Staff member: Rebecca Stacey, John Taylor, Derek Welsby
Department: Scientific Research, Ancient Egypt and Sudan
University and department: University of Northampton, Institute of Creative Leather Technologies
University supervisor: Anne Lama, Anthony Covington

What types of animal hides were selected in Ancient Egypt and Nubia during the Pharaonic period?

Imaging techniques and MALDI will reveal animal species of hides and skins.

Is there a distinction between ancient Egyptian and Nubian skin processing traditions?

Through examination and analysis of Egyptian and Nubian leather in the BM collection, we hope to identify differences in processing methods.

Can certain hide species and methods of preparation be associated with different periods or regions?

Using spatial analysis to map find-spots, coordinated with species and preparation may reveal patterns of leather distribution.

About my research

The technology of skin processing in Egypt and Nubia during the Pharaonic era (c.3000-30BC) is not well understood, nor whether it was a craft ascribed to a particular population group or region.

The project builds upon our understanding of leather science and existing archaeological and ethnographic evidence, using a scientific and experimental approach to reconstruct ancient tanning technology.

Trips to traditional-style Egyptian and Sudanese tanneries are planned for gathering materials and gaining insight to processes. Scientific analysis of leather objects in the Ancient Egypt and Sudan collection at the British Museum will identify and confirm hide types and processing substances. A novel technique - Matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization time-of-flight mass spectrometry (MALDI-TOF) at the University of York, is to support traditional methods of species identification of hides. Fieldwork and analytical results will inform “experimental skin processing” at the Institute of Creative Leather Technology, University of Northampton, under guidance of world-leading leather scientists.

Aims of my research

The findings of analysis and fieldwork will be contextualized by experimental research in practical leather processing to address technological ‘how’, experiential ‘why’ and cultural ‘where’ questions, thereby building a new understanding of pharaonic leatherwork and the possible role of distinct leather-making traditions in Egypt and Nubia.